Music

Soul Collective Pieces of a Man Come Straight Outta Manchester

Photo: David Klein / Courtesy of The Syn

Manchester's soul collective, Pieces of a Man -- named after Gil-Scott Heron's first album -- honors the musical legacy of their hometown with the debut album, Made in Pieces.

Made in Pieces
Pieces of a Man

Tru Thoughts

12 July 2019

Manchester, one of England's largest cities, has been a hotbed of musical activity for decades. It is generally known that Manchester was the origin city for Buzzcocks, Joy Division, New Order, the Smiths, Happy Mondays, the Stone Roses, and Oasis. But Manchester's musical connections also include artists like 10cc, Herman's Hermits, Simply Red, Lisa Stansfield, and many others.

The latest promising new band to emerge from Manchester is a six-man soul unit, Pieces of a Man, comprising Pils (Illya Gosling) keyboards, sax; Mark Parkinson, guitar; Tim Curry, bass; Aden Peets, drums/beats; To!u Aiayi, lead vocals/synths; and DK (David Klein) sound manipulation/effects and visual output. The band takes its name from the debut album by soul- and jazz-influenced spoken word artist Gil-Scott Heron, and honors Heron by covering his "Lady Day and John Coltrane" deep on an intriguing debut album, Made in Pieces.

After opening with a short, enigmatic "Walk Out", Pieces of a Man get down to business with one of the album's most compelling tracks, a horn- and synth-drenched mid-tempo modern soul workout called "Listen". Lead vocalist and synth player To!u Aiayi noted that "Listen" was inspired by the difficult conversation he and his mother had when he came out to her. He begins the conversation by noting, "Since I saw you last / Things aren't as straight as they used to be", and wonders, "If I told you what was wrong / Would you listen to me?" "Listen" will resonate with anyone who has needed to initiate a difficult conversation with a loved one.

While Made in Pieces is not exactly a concept album, much of it revolves around the idea of identity. On "Grits", the most-up-tempo song on the album, Aiayi presents a litany of stereotypical activities that might be considered prerequisites to being a soul singer, though he and the other members of this interracial British soul band may not have necessarily experienced them. When Aiayi sings, "I don't know what you've been told / But I can't hide where I came from / So don't you tell me to go home / Let my soul be my soul," he sums up much of the lyrical content of Made in Pieces, and gives listeners something to ponder as the rest of the album nears its conclusion.

Pieces of a Man use conventional instruments, electronics, and complex vocal arrangements to create an overall sound that draws you in with its warmth. In addition to previously mentioned songs, the ballad, "Nothing to Lose" exemplifies how the band brings their sound together, to gorgeous effect. And, while listening to Made in Pieces will certainly call to mind the work of giants like Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire, Curtis Mayfield – and of, course, Gil-Scott Heron -- the album proves that Pieces of a Man has already carved out its sound.

One final note: while the band percolates nicely on "Listen", "Grits" "Lady Day and John Coltrane", and a few others, Made in Pieces is very much a chill-out album. Best not to be operating heavy machinery while listening. So, put down that jackhammer and give Made in Pieces a spin if you want to learn about the soul coming out of Manchester these days.

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